For better or for worse, Americans are hooked on true crime. Half of Americans say on a new YouGov poll that they enjoy true-crime content, and one in three say they consume it at least once a week. The poll asked U.S. adult citizens to weigh in on a variety of debates surrounding the growing genre: Does it exploit victims or induce empathy? Does it make viewers appropriately safety-conscious or excessively paranoid? Is it "copoganda" or does it bring awareness to legal injustices? On these points, Americans are more likely than not to believe that true crime makes people more empathetic with victims, more safety-conscious, and better versed in the workings of the criminal justice system. A large share of people find the genre graphic and disturbing, but even more say it's exciting and suspenseful. True-crime content – especially the most grisly variety – appeals more to women than men.
Half of Americans say they enjoy the genre of true crime, including 13% who say it's their favorite genre. One in three (34%) say they don't enjoy it, and 13% say it's their least favorite genre. Consistent with prior observations, we find that women (58%) are more likely than men (42%) to say they enjoy true crime, and twice as likely to say it's their favorite genre. Differences across racial groups, age groups, and political groups are minimal.
One in three Americans (35%) say they consume true-crime content at least once per week, including one in four (24%) who say they consume it multiple times per week. Only 30% say they never consume it. The top two ways people say they consume true-crime content are TV shows (52%) and films (39%). Fewer say they consume it in each of several other ways: books (23%), online videos (20%), podcasts (17%), or online articles/forums (15%).
The most common real-life crimes Americans say have inspired content they've consumed are murder (52%), serial-killing (45%), kidnapping (37%), and organized crime (35%). While women are only slightly more likely than men to consume content involving non-violent crimes (including corruption, fraud, drug trafficking, and hacking), they are far more likely than men to say they've consumed content on violent crimes (including murder, kidnapping, domestic abuse, and sexual assault).
The popularization of violent forms of entertainment — including, historically, video games and music — is often met with social backlash. True crime has faced similar critiques, with some saying it is graphic, is exploitative, sensationalizes violence, and makes people unnecessarily paranoid. Proponents of true crime disagree, saying that it brings awareness to unsolved crimes, builds empathy and support for victims, and makes people more vigilant and safety-conscious.
Common arguments for true crime get agreement from more Americans than some common criticisms — with some exceptions. Far more Americans think true crime makes people more empathetic (61%) than think it makes them less empathetic (28%). Few believe that it makes people more (20%) or less (29%) likely to commit crimes. Two other common criticisms of true-crime content – that it is exploitative and biased – resonate with few Americans: 37% say it exploits victims and their families and 25% say it's biased and inaccurate. Though many find it exciting and suspenseful (64%), a large share (59%) find it graphic and disturbing. A little under half of Americans think true crime sensationalizes violence (44%) or desensitizes people to violence (44%).
While many Americans (63%) believe true crime gives people a better understanding of the criminal justice system, there is division as to whether it increases or decreases trust in the police: 37% think it increases trust in police, while 31% think it decreases trust in them. Three in five Americans (58%) think that the genre helps solve crimes that wouldn't have been solved otherwise, and slightly fewer (48%) believe it encourages people to donate to organizations that help victims and their families. More (62%) believe that true crime makes people vigilant and safety-conscious than believe it makes people unnecessarily fearful and paranoid (40%).
Women are generally more likely than men to believe that true crime produces positive outcomes. A larger share of women than men say they agree that true crime does each of the following:
- Gives people a better understanding of the criminal justice system
- Provides people with a sense of excitement and suspense
- Makes people more vigilant and safety-conscious
- Helps people understand and empathize with victims of crime
- Is graphic and disturbing
- Helps people understand criminals and their motivations
- Helps solve crimes that wouldn't have been solved otherwise
- Encourages people to donate to organizations that help victims and their families.
— Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article
This poll was conducted on August 29 - September 5, 2022 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.
Image: Unsplash (Maxim Hopman)